BMW 320d Efficient Dynamics
The Sensible Company Car? Well, Maybe.
People choose their cars for lots of reasons. We all know that how much the car costs and what you can afford is probably the first criteria, but once you’ve got past that, it seems that the cars ‘badge’ and its image are next in line, with good stuff such as what it costs to run, slightly taking a back seat at that point.
There is an assumption that if a car has the posh badge, its going to be good, probably very good and certainly better than the other ‘mainstream’ brands and I have to tell you that all so often, that’s not true, in fact, couldn’t be further from the truth, as bang for your buck, is definitely not a feature of the perceived ‘prestige brands’.
However, it seems that out of choice, most drivers would choose the badge over the value, and in the case of company car drivers, it’s sometimes been difficult to justify the reasoning as to why their ego is directing them to the perceived “posh cars”. However, now there is a posh car with a posh badge that stacks up, certainly on paper and most fleet managers will have a hard job to arrive at any reasons why the driver shouldn’t have it as his company car.
The car we are talking about is the BMW 320d Efficient Dynamics saloon and as I said, on paper, it’s a cracker. The car makes fantastic sense as it offers a combination of a low, P11D busting Co2 of just 109g/km, which is less than many super-mini’s and a fuel consumption figure of an amazing 68.9mpg (combined average) and recently, a journalist testing the car on a journey between the channel Tunnel and Munich and averaged an incredible 75.9mpg at an average of 59.3mph and that equates to 1013 miles on one tank of gas.
Perhaps for many of you, that’s enough to sign on the dotted line now and I wouldn’t blame you if you did, however we had a metallic black 320d Efficient Dynamics saloon kindly loaned to us by Listers BMW so that we could find out for ourselves how it translates from the ‘paper’ to the ‘metal’.
The car arrived and I have to be honest, my first impressions was what a bland dull looking thing it was, devoid of mouldings, with pretty much the only chrome being the (money earning) BMW grille, but outside of that, everything was black, everything was bland. .
For sure, styling is in the eye of the beholder and everybody loves somebody, but if you are brave enough to wipe the implant and look at it for what it was, as opposed to what it is, this clearly isn’t the most attractive car around, although I have to concede, it would look a little nicer in a different colour and of course, the M Sport versions are more attractive.
Inside the car, for me, it didn’t get any better and didn’t look like it was the interior of a quality prestige car and its dashboard was particularly bland and uninteresting. To highlight the myth that surrounds the cars badge, a front seat passenger I gave a lift to said “if I didn’t know it, I wouldn’t think we were in anything special” which meant he thought in his mind that BMW were special, but it also clearly meant that he expected to see something more from the cars interior to confirm it was special, but frankly, never did.
We haven’t turned the key yet, don’t forget, but we have got as far as sitting in the car and were somewhat surprised to see the cars handbook pack stuffed part way into the passenger side door pocket, so being kind of tidy, we figured we would pop it into the glove box and yes, you’ve guessed it, the book pack does not fit into the tiny glove-box that BMW give you, so we had a bit of a scout round and eventually the books were consigned to the very large boot which was the only place in the car they were happy to live.
Storage then became an issue and we started to look for places to put things and frankly there is none, well none to speak of. There is the smallest centre console glove box in the world, which you might squeeze a bar of chocolate and a pack of cigarettes into or perhaps a small knackwurst if you are in the fatherland, but is effectively it’s useless. There are door pockets on both front doors, but that’s it, no where else to put anything and of course, if you use the door pockets, everything rattles around and slides about whilst you drive. As a bonus though for any passing vagabond, at least they can see all your stuff and make the decision if they want it or not, before they go to the trouble of smashing your window to get it! The car comes with a CD player but don’t go bringing out too many CD’s with you as there is no storage for those either and I could even find anywhere to even put my mobile phone, so that was forced to live in my pocket.
OK, front seat passengers get hardly any storage, but rear seat passengers are ignored completely as there is absolutely no where to put anything and I mean no where, no door pockets, no cup holders, no nets on the back of the front seats, nothing, zippo, zilch and that means you’re going to have to hold what ever you bought with you for the entire journey and just think of that, no where for a can of drink, or a bag of sweets, a magazine or anything else you chose to bring and to my way of thinking, that’s completely unacceptable and shows just what corners have been cut on this car. BMW do say however that you can have an option which gives you extended storage and gives you nets on the back of the front seats and a couple of other bits, but even everyday things like split folding rear seats which are standard on virtually every other mainstream car are a £335 option on this car. Its time to get real, our car had a ticket price of over £29,000 and yet BMW are asking for more money to provide what cars a third of the price of the BMW get as standard.
It’s ok to bang on about design and that everything has been thought about, but fact is, something as simple and uncomplicated as finding a home for the book pack, which comes with every new car, either had BMW stumped, or they just simply couldn’t be bothered and that makes you wonder what else there is about this car (that perhaps you cant see) which was just too demanding for the BMW engineers, or that they simply couldn’t be bothered with.
Our car had optional Sat-Nav, which worked well and added some interest to the cars very ordinary dashboard and ok, I accept this car was the poverty model of the BMW 3 Series range but is there really a need for a row of 5 blanked off buttons below the CD player just to remind you and demonstrate to your passengers that you didn’t have enough money to buy one who’s switches actually worked. I didn’t like the door speakers either as they look like something you’ve picked up from your local Halfords, rather than being integrated into the cars design and for me they looked like an afterthought, harping back to those days when radio’s were not standard on cars. Looking on the positive side however, we were really impressed by the two cup-holders that come out of the dash, particularly as I managed to find a way of securing my iPhone in one of them.
Looking at the rest of the interior, yes it was ok, part leather, part cloth, but it was only ok, no more than that and frankly, we expect better from an expensive car wearing a prestigious badge.
So, its shut the door and off we go, only that closing the door normally does not shut the door, is simply puts it on half catch, meaning you have to open it again and give it a slam to get it to shut and that’s goes for if you are inside the car or outside and again, made the car feel cheap and poorly engineered and compared abysmally to the Audi A3 which we are also testing which needs the lightest of touches to close its doors.
Driving the car, we found we couldn’t get comfortable. When we got the seat so it was right for our feet on the pedals, we felt the steering wheel was to close for us and despite trying various combinations, we couldn’t find one that worked. I also felt that the cars “A” pillar seemed pretty close and I didn’t like that. Headroom is OK, as we could get our heads in the car, but it’s not huge, but I suppose that’s the price you pay for the cars styling.
So the keys in and it’s a kind of cool thing that slots into the dashboard above where your left knee would be and that gave us another annoying thing and that was the BMW key fob kept nudging my leg whilst I was driving and yes, that isn’t the end of the world, but remember, I am already not comfortable in this car and have the steering wheel to close, with my phone stuffed into the cup holder and my stuff slopping around in the door pockets, but I am driving a prestige car or as BMW would refer to it, ‘the ultimate driving machine’.
As for how the 3 Series d Efficient Dynamics felt on the road, well we thought it felt heavy, we didn’t think it was nimble. The cars gearbox was notchy and if you left your hand on it, you felt all the vibrations from the transmission through your hand.
Engine wise, it’s a touch agricultural as most diesels are, but it was quick enough driven normally and if you were minded to push the car, yes you could feel its 163bhp. This however isn’t the fastest diesel around, but then there is a trade off, as we cant think of any diesel that offers the combination of low Co2, good fuel consumption and performance, so the 3 Series does get top marks for that, although it has to be said, we didn’t achieve anywhere near BMW’s stated mpg figures and were simply miles away from the guy who did the Euro economy run, as we only averaged just 47.8mpg.
The cars brakes were where they should be and whilst we wouldn’t describe the cars handling as nimble, it was competent particularly in dry weather although the torquey diesel did let you know this was a rear wheel drive car in the wet and that you should treat it with a touch of respect.
How do we sum this car up? Well there is mega hype surrounding the 3 big German brands and undoubtedly, they are the 3 makes we pretty much all aspire to have, despite in many cases them honestly not being as well specified and good to drive as your everyday Ford or Vauxhall (etc). However they are vehicles that tell the world how well you’re doing, and if you’ve got one as a company car, they tend to appear more like it might be yours, rather than a company provided vehicle and most of us are snobby about that kind of thing. Fact is, people buy these cars irrespective of how good they are, because of the brand, because of the badge.
I know there will be screams of derision here, as I tell you that I must be like the little boy in the “king’s new clothes” because I just failed to see why the BMW 3 Series has so many people saying it’s wonderful.
Now before you rush to the defence of the 3 Series, I need to point out that our car was smaller than a Mondeo / Insignia etc, had a poorer specification but cost a massive £29,000 and that’s a lot of money and because of that, I expect it to deliver big time, because we have tested cars with half of the BMW’s price tag that did deliver. I expect for £29,000 that the car is going to be pretty special (after all that’s what the badge is telling me) and it wasn’t, it was a fairly basic, poorly specified medium sized car, that’s all, it just wasn’t special (least, for us, it was not special enough).
A £40 Seiko can tell the time just as well as a £10,000 Rolex, and yes, if you can afford it, it’s the Rolex you are going to buy, even though you know it does not make sense, but for us, this £10,000 Rolex just wasn’t comfortable on our wrists and we simply wouldn’t wear it, opting for the value for money Seiko!
So in conclusion, and in our opinion, there are lots of cheaper cars around, that drive better than this BMW and which are better specified and easier and more convenient to live with on a day to day basis.
We said at the beginning of this article that the BMW 320d Efficient Dynamics stacks up as really sensible choice as a company car and we haven’t changed that opinion and BMW are going to sell it in bucket loads, however we are disappointed as we wanted to love this car, but we believe the car could have been and should have been so much better, so its “7 out of 10 – can do better work” (but you’re still going to buy it aren’t you).